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12 tips for creating the Bezos “Two-Pizza rule” team

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

By Rich Karlgaard

2pizzasBlow up your bureaucracy and replace it with teams of 8 to 12 people. This is not as radical as it sounds. Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos calls it the “Two-Pizza Rule”—a team should be no larger than can be fed by two pizzas. In today’s fast-evolving business climate, two-pizza teams can be your organization’s best strategy for success. But how do you go about selecting and nurturing team members for maximum efficiency?

Here are 12 tips:

Work your way to the smallest number, then subtract one. This advice has been borne out by numerous business leaders. The “minus one” philosophy forces the remaining team members to be creative. That’s where you start. Lean and hungry. Fewer than a dozen if you can manage. You can always add later.

Go with your gut—even when someone isn’t the “obvious” choice. In 1989, FedEx knew that it needed to update its old, slow technology. Its unconventional strategy was to ask Judy Estrin, a young Silicon Valley technologist, to join its board. At 36, with no experience as a CEO or on a large company board, Estrin wasn’t an obvious choice. But she was, as FedEx CEO Fred Smith noted, “blindingly bright.” The point? Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb if you believe an “unconventional” choice would be best for your team. Who is your Judy Estrin?
 
Choose people who are passionate. These are the ones who will spend extra hours on a project, who will think about that problem or product on the weekends, in the shower, wherever they go. Without passion, your team is likely to be a gaggle of clock-punching automatons.
 
You can generally recognize passionate people by what they do, not what they say. Consider the approach taken by Mike Sinyard, founder of Specialized Bicycles. Sinyard hires only employees who love biking and watches to see who does lunchtime group rides to separate the “talkers” from the “riders.” Is this fair? Why not? It’s a bike company.

Look for grit

Look for grit, too. Grit is the ability to overcome adversity. Look for individuals who have proven they can do so—those who don’t shy away from a challenge. Avoid those whose first move is to look around for someone to help them when they’re in a jam. Remember, a big part of what makes two-pizza teams tick is an intrepid, entrepreneurial spirit that isn’t daunted when the going gets rough.
 
Avoid needy prima donnas and self-aggrandizing MVPs. Yes, “team players” has become a business buzzword, but there’s a good reason for that. You really do want to staff your team with individuals who are willing to share, serve, and give credit where credit is due.
 
You can also borrow the strategy of Eric Edgecumbe, COO at Specialized Bicycles, who asks, “Did you play any team sports in high school or college? Tell me what you liked about being on a team and what you didn’t like about being on a team.” Individuals’ answers can tell you a lot.
 
Aim for cognitive diversity. In other words, go beyond “shallow, legalistic” definitions of diversity. Cognitive diversity encompasses a broad range of variables—generational differences, educational and skill variation, and social and cultural elements, including, of course, race and gender. Cognitively diverse teams will come up with ideas and tackle problems in a variety of ways. Some members will trust their guts; others will crunch numbers. Some are analytical and logical; others are creative and intuitive.
 

They will all think, feel, and see the world in unique ways, leading to the broadest range of ideas and solutions.
However, don’t emphasize your team’s differences. This can result in unhelpful pigeonholing. Instead, focus on finding common ground and providing what the group needs to move forward. For instance, all employees want a chance to be respected, to be challenged, and to grow.
 

We all need credible leaders: people who encourage us and listen to us. We all want to learn more and receive training that helps us do a better job and get to the next level.
 

Give the gift of high expectations.

 

Jeff Bezos

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos came up with the two-pizza rule for team-building.

Encourage tough conversations. Easily won consensus isn’t always the hallmark of effective two-pizza teams. Sometimes, arguments need to happen. Tension needs to be addressed. It may be messy, and there will very likely be misunderstandings. But stay the course and urge people to speak up and have difficult conversations. In the end, their differing opinions and interests will sharpen the company and result in better products and services.
 

Give the gift of high expectations. Don’t be afraid to drive people, cajole them, and push them to find that last 1 percent of team performance. This motivates them far more than vague or easily met goals. When a team leader has high expectations, he or she is paying the team members a compliment. And when those expectations are met, the feeling of success not only becomes normative, it begins to grow and multiply. A virtuous cycle begins, and you institute a natural deterrent against the inertia that dooms so many companies and careers to mediocrity.
 
Be very clear about goals and boundaries. Don’t leave room for doubt. Don’t be passive-aggressive. When team leaders are as clear as possible in setting boundaries, people actually feel freer to express thoughts or make mistakes than when boundaries are vague.
 
Lead with real-world optimism. Great team leaders simultaneously drive and reassure people. Base this reassurance on the genuine belief that good things come from working hard and following a system. This kind of real-world optimism is more than hope—it’s the ability to approach your task as an opportunity. Let your team know that if they stay positive but alert and a touch paranoid—just a touch!—they’ll have a shot at achieving something bigger and better.
 
Keep a loose grip on the reins. Valuable team members will want some control over their own environments. If they have to run every detail by you, they’ll lose initiative. Provide support and mandate accountability, but leave the lion’s share of the decision-making with the people who will be eating those two pizzas. Don’t sacrifice productivity for the sake of bureaucracy.
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About the Author:
Rich Karlgaard is author of The Soft Edge: Where Great Companies Find Lasting Success (Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint, 2014, ISBN: 978-1-118-82942-4, $28.00, www.richkarlgaard.com). He is also the publisher of Forbes magazine, where he writes a column, Innovation Rules, known for its witty assessment of business and leadership issues.

For more tips on business best practices, digital marketing, and the most effective ways to use technology, consider attending the upcoming Digital Summit Atlanta May 20-21, where you’ll not have the chance to hear and network with top brand thought-leaders from Google, Bing, Huffington Post and many others, but also get to see Apple co-founder and tech icon Steve Wozniak.

8 signs your business aims too low

Monday, July 22nd, 2013
JoAnn and Joseph Callaway

JoAnn and Joseph Callaway

Picture this: You’re relaxing on your couch and watching your favorite crime drama after a long day at work. You’ve halfway tuned out during a commercial break when something catches your attention. “Come see what we have to offer. We’re proud to be second in area sales and customer satisfaction since 1992!” an announcer enthuses while a giant yellow “2” flashes on the screen.

Sure, it sounds absurd. But according to Joseph Callaway, while most of us pay lip service to our desire to be our customers’ first choice, our actions may say otherwise.

“Any time you don’t make the client your top priority, you’re tacitly agreeing not to betheir top priority,” says Callaway, who, along with his wife, JoAnn, is the author of the New York Times bestseller Clients First: The Two Word Miracle (Wiley, October 2012, ISBN: 978-1-1184127-7-0, $21.95, www.clientsfirstbook.com). “You cannot truly be number one until your clients are. Being number one really is a two-way street, and it’s not an easy street. You can’t coast your way to number one—and when you settle for doing so, you soon fall to number two or even lower.”

Callaway knows all about the high price of being number one. He and his wife built their thriving business—Those Callaways—in a tough industry that’s had more than its share of challenges. To date, they’ve sold over a billion dollars’ worth of homes and have been the market leader in their area for years. Their book describes their late-in-life entry into real estate, how they had their “Clients First” revelation, how it changed their professional and personal lives, and how readers can put it into practice for themselves.

Don’t settle for number two

“Living and working this way is rewarding, but it’s also tough,” he admits. “Putting your customers’ interests ahead of your own—every time—can seem counterintuitive, risky, and even frightening. That’s why so many businesses fail to be as competitive as they’d like: Even if they don’t realize it, they’ve chosen to operate in a way that makes it impossible for them to come in first from a customer’s perspective.

Especially in an uncertain economy, you can’t settle for being number two—or three, or four—because that puts you on the road to eventual failure,” he adds. “Sooner or later, your vulnerability will catch up with you. The best job security is being the best.”

Here, Callaway shares eight signs that your business is aiming lower than you may have thought, as well as advice on how to finally start hitting the bull’s-eye:

1. Your number one business goal is to make money. Ummm…isn’t that the point of running a company? you might be asking. Well, it’s a point, says Callaway, but it’s not thepoint. You see, a too-acute focus on improving the bottom line takes your attention off of the people who are going to enable you to raise it: your customers. Your clients can always tell when they’re not your first priority. (If you’re skeptical, just consider the backlash that often occurs when small businesses are bought out and transformed by larger, more impersonal corporations.)

“The difference between paying attention to customer service so that your clients will give you more business and doing so because serving the customer is your first priority may feel slight, but it’s significant,” Callaway promises. “Yes, taking your focus away from the bottom line may feel uncomfortable at first. But you’ll soon find that when you focus on how best to serve clients, tough decisions make themselves. If it serves the client, you do it. If it doesn’t, you don’t. This neutralizes moral dilemmas and really simplifies your life. And it almost always has a miracle effect on your growth and success.”

2. You let the little things slide. So…what’s the problem? Rushing through paperwork so you can get home early, failing to spellcheck an email or two, and running late to a meeting probably won’t matter that much six months from now. It’s the “big” things like growing your company, expanding your client base, hiring more employees, and making a profit that are most important, right? Not necessarily, says Callaway.

“So often in life, it’s the small details that differentiate ‘good’ from ‘great,’” he points out. “So be careful not to become so fixated on the forest that you fail to see the trees. In other words, stop being so distracted by the ‘big grand ideas’ and start getting the small details right. Promises kept, deadlines met, little extra flourishes, and small acts of kindness add up to happy clients.

“One thing Those Callaways does with clients in escrow is to call or email them every day, even if nothing is happening,” he adds. “This simple message of ‘nothing happening, wanted you to know’ is a huge stress reliever and an even bigger business builder.”

3. You habitually let certain clients go to voicemail. It’s happened to everyone: When you see that name flash on your phone’s caller ID, you slowly pull your hand back from the receiver and let the ringing continue. You just don’t want to deal with the drama, or the whining, or the accusations, or the belligerence just now. Yes, we all have “problem” clients. But to avoid them or just go through the motions for them is a mistake. They will notice and remember your behavior. (And be honest: Would you want to give your business to someone who might write you off when the going got tough?)

Clients First means all clients,” Callaway insists. “In over fourteen years, my wife and I have never gotten rid of a single client—even when we secretly wished we could—and we believe this no-fire strategy has contributed significantly to our ultimate success. Here’s the payoff: When you make the choice to stand by all of your frazzled, frustrated customers, you will eventually reap financial and personal rewards.

“You may even become known in your company or industry as the guy or gal who can handle the toughest customers,” he adds. “And chances are, your clients themselves will be grateful that you didn’t give up on them and may even send others your way.”

4. You find yourself telling white lies. It’s true that telling clients white lies, or exaggerating, misdirecting, or omitting, might make life easier temporarily. It’s also true that we can often justify such behavior to ourselves (She’ll never know, and it’ll save me hours of work, for example). But Callaway says these “little” lies are just as bad as the whoppers. There is always a chance that customers will see through you and call you on the carpet. And even if they don’t, a willingness to play fast and loose with the truth is indicative of a broader attitude that relegates clients to second or third priority. (In return, that’s usually how they’ll rate you.)

“Honesty can be tough in the moment, but a reputation for trustworthiness (or untrustworthiness!) can stick with you for life,” says Callaway. “Live by a policy of never holding back or sugarcoating and you’ll gain customer loyalty that money can’t buy. Plus, when you have only the truth, you wave goodbye to moral dilemmas and sleepless nights. You don’t have to worry about getting the story straight or remembering what you have and haven’t shared. You know you’re doing the right thing.”

5. You spend more time trying to get off the phone than really hearing what the customer has to say. Chances are, you roll out the red carpet in order to get prospective clients on board. And you’re probably willing to bear with the whims, questions, and requests of fairly new customers whose business isn’t yet cemented. But what about older, more established clients? Do you take the same amount of time and care with them, or do you assume they’ll stick with you out of habit and convenience?

“If you wouldn’t hang up the phone at the first opportunity with a client you signed last week, don’t do it with one you signed ten years ago,” advises Callaway. “Companies that become number one don’t do so because they win customers over once, but because they do it every day. A good experience last month usually won’t keep a customer coming back this month if he or she believes that your level of service has slipped.”

6. You don’t know your client’s daughter’s name or what he likes to do on the weekends.In your eyes you’re being professional when every question in your meeting is about the client’s financial preferences, for example, and not his family, pastimes, and interests. But inhis eyes, you’re cold and impersonal. Remember, to truly serve, you have to care. When you keep yourself at arm’s length, you can’t give your clients 100 percent…and you give them an incentive to take their business elsewhere.

“Do you see your clients as sources of income, or do you see them as actual human beings with likes, preferences, quirks, and stories?” Callaway asks. “People want to do business with individuals they like—and they like people who like them! Make a deeper connection with your clients by asking about their kids, their pets, their hobbies, and their jobs or businesses. You’ll find that most of them are just like you: filled with worries, hopes, and dreams. Once you get familiar with and invested in these things, you’ll work that much harder on each client’s behalf, and you’ll earn their loyalty in the process.”

7. You feel your main obligation to employees is writing their paycheck. While (of course) you don’t treat employees like dirt, you may feel that you don’t owe them any special favors, either. After all, you’re paying them—isn’t that enough? Well, no, says Callaway. The way your people treat customers reflects the way you treat them. Are you courteous? Kind? Enthusiastic? Do you listen when they talk to you and try to accommodate their needs? Or are you short, perfunctory, and even (sometimes) rude?

“Your job is to serve others, period,” Callaway says. “You can’t do that by making distinctions between the people who work for you and the people to whom you provide a good or service. Realize that you set the tone for your company’s ‘personality,’ and that you’re creating a tribe of people who will beat the drum for your message. Try to see your employees through a client’s eyes and be honest: Would they win first or second place in a customer service competition? If you don’t like the answer, try adjusting your own attitude first.”

8. You’re not above badmouthing the competition. Some leaders don’t hesitate to casually say things like, “Sure, Outlet X is cheap, but the quality of their merchandise leaves a lot to be desired,” or, “I’d think twice before I took my business to Firm Y—didn’t you hear they had to lay off half of their staff last year?” But Callaway suggests you look at what happens in the political arena: When you sling mud at your opponent, some of it is likely to get on you, too. Besides, wouldn’t you rather rise to the number one spot solely on your organization’s merit, not because you took cheap(ish) shots?

“In fact, you can—and should—strive to win the approval, goodwill, and admiration of your competitors,” shares Callaway. “If possible, get to know their leaders and employees and help them when you can. You don’t have to give away trade secrets, but you can offer advice, for example, or refer a customer whose needs are better matched to what another business has to offer.

“Don’t do these things manipulatively but in the spirit of giving,” he clarifies. “Your efforts will come back to you with interest. Have faith that there is enough business to go around.”

Finally, advises Callaway, don’t put the cart (being number one) before the horse (serving your clients).

“A customer isn’t focused on where you stand in the big picture so much as on how well you treat and serve him or her individually,” he says. “And that’s the beauty of how this whole thing works: By keeping your commitment to Clients First, you’ll win enough loyal supporters to put you squarely in the lead position after all.”

Make their day with recognition and virtual rewards

Friday, June 14th, 2013
million dollars

Money isn’t the only motivator.

Employees are more motivated by recognition and virtual rewards compared to financial incentives, and this number is on the rise, according to research by Make Their Day, an employee motivation firm.

A similar survey was performed by Make Their Day in 2007, in which 57 percent of respondents reported that their meaningful recognition had no dollar value—today, that number has jumped to 70 percent.

“The value of non-tangible recognition is clearly identified in our findings,” said Cindy Ventrice, author of Make Their Day! Employee Recognition That Works. “Workplace technology today, such as gamification, provides many new opportunities for non-tangible recognition. With nearly one-fifth of meaningful recognition being delivered virtually, it is clear that these methods can be effective.”

Independent report corroborates the research

This research corroborates a recent independent report released by McKinsey & Company that revealed praise, attention from leaders, and opportunities to lead projects were more effective motivators than performance-based cash rewards, increase in base pay, or stock options (Motivating People: Getting Behind Money, 2009.)

In the report, Martin Dewhurst, Matthew Gurthridge andElizabeth Mohr note that companies around the world are cutting back on financial incentive programs, but few have used other ways of inspiring talent. The McKinsey report recommends looking at non-financial incentive programs for this purpose.

“The results of the study align to what we’ve seen across our customers deploying gamification solutions for workplace engagement, as well as numerous reports over the last few years on the changing face of what motivates employees today” said Ken Comee, CEO, Badgeville.

“Workers of all ages, especially the rising millennial population, are motivated by real-time feedback, fun, engaging work environments, and status-based recognition over tangible rewards. Gamification programs powered by Badgeville have empowered hundreds of companies to reward employees for the right behaviors, showcase their reputation and enhance employee motivation across their workforce.”

Six things that make your employees feel they don’t matter

Thursday, June 13th, 2013
Christine Comaford

Christine Comaford

Of course your employees matter. If they didn’t, you wouldn’t hire them, trust them to do important work, or keep paying them week after week. And if you think about it at all (which you probably don’t), you assume they realize that.

It’s only logical. But according to Christine Comaford, you may inadvertently do and say things that make them feel otherwise—and it has little to do with logic.

Mattering is one of the three most primal human needs, along with safety andbelonging,” asserts Comaford, author of the New York Times best seller SmartTribes: How Teams Become Brilliant Together (Portfolio/Penguin, June 2013, ISBN: 978-1-5918464-8-2, $26.95, www.SmartTribesBook.com).

“When employees are made to feel that they don’t matter, it happens on an emotional level, not an intellectual one. And we now know that emotions, not intellect, drive 90 percent of human behavior.

 Critter state

“The really bad news for leaders is that when employees feel they don’t matter, they simply cannot function at their highest level of performance,” she adds.

When leaders say or do something that makes employees feel insignificant (and/or frightened or isolated; the three tend to work together), they revert to the fight/flight/freeze part of the brain—falling into what Comaford calls the “Critter State.” Once in this state, all innovation and collaboration skills fall by the wayside, and every decision boils down to a single question: What will keep me safe right now?

Comaford trains and coaches leaders at midsized and Fortune 1000 companies in neuroscience techniques that get people out of their Critter State and into their Smart State, where they have full access to their creativity, problem-solving ability, collaboration, and emotional engagement. Under her guidance, clients often see their revenues and profits increase by up to 21 percent annually. Furthermore, 33-42 percent of the entire employee base takes on increased levels of responsibility—without asking for more pay.

So what might you be doing that makes employees feel they don’t matter? Comaford reveals six of the top offenders:

• You don’t respond to their emails. Sure, you’re busy, and sure, your employees know that—but the Critter State doesn’t spring from the rational part of the brain. Instead of thinking, Oh, the boss will get back to me when she has a moment, they think, She doesn’t like my idea. She doesn’t like me. I feel rejected. I don’t matter.

“When an employee emails the boss, especially when that email asks for your approval or contains sensitive content, she’s putting herself out there,” says Comaford. “Always respond—even if it’s just to say, ‘I need a little time to think about that but I’ll get back to you in a day or two.’”

• You don’t give them feedback—positive or negative. When people matter to us, we want them to know they’ve done a good job. If they haven’t done a good job, we want them to know that too, so they can improve. To the employee’s Critter Brain, silence means we don’t care enough to let them know either way.

“Hopefully you’re giving feedback in performance evaluations, but give it informally as well,” advises Comaford. “A simple ‘Good job writing that proposal’ means a lot. And while it’s less fun to hear ‘You need to work on the close to your sales pitch,’ when your employee starts getting better results, he’ll know you cared enough to speak up.

“It feels un-PC to make this comparison, but consider how well children respond to being consistently held accountable,” she adds. “Rules and boundaries make people feel loved. It’s true for employees and leaders too. In the Critter Brain, we’re all two-year-olds.”

• You acknowledge people ONLY when they make mistakes. This makes them feel like a faulty cog that must be repaired to keep the company machine running smoothly. To let them know they matter, make a positive personal connection with employees as often as possible. Be specific about what you like and let them know their unique contribution makes a real difference to the company.

“Better yet, make a point of praising them publicly,” says Comaford. “Social rewards are extremely powerful—far more powerful than cash rewards, in fact.”

• You don’t celebrate victories. No, just getting paid isn’t reward enough for doing a great job. (Again, a paycheck can feel like oil for the cog—necessary, but not meaningful.) When your team has an especially significant win, make a point to order in a special lunch and celebrate the team company-wide.

“Team victory celebrations foster a sense of belonging and camaraderie—which go hand in hand with mattering,” notes Comaford.

• You inadvertently show favoritism. In many companies, there are certain team members who are perceived as “above the law” or in the “in crowd.” These people tend not to be held accountable for their lack of performance, and they often get the lion’s share of raises, promotions, or perks, even if they don’t deserve them. And yes, says Comaford, other employees notice.

“People think lovability isn’t an issue in business, but I’m here to tell you it is,” she says. “Feeling that others are more ‘loved’ triggers safety, belonging, and mattering issues in those on the outside. Absolute equality may not be possible in an imperfect world, but it’s critical to aim for it.”

• You burn them out. Do your employees slog away like slaves, working looong hours and completing one high-stress task after another, day after day after day? Not only will they feel that you don’t care about their well-being, they’ll burn out. Yes, from time to time we all have to exert extra effort…but no one can sustain such a pace forever.

Comaford points out that this dynamic starts when leaders “self-sacrifice.” Even if you don’t tell employees they have to work until 8 p.m. every night, they see you do it and feel that they’re expected to do so as well. This isn’t good for you or for them.

“Sustainability is about creating win-win agreements with ourselves and others,” she asserts. “We all need a good blend of people, activities, and things that excite and energize us in order to balance out those (inevitable) things that drain us. If your employees matter to you, you’ll help them strike that balance.”

To many leaders, paying so much attention to what goes on inside employees’ heads is a foreign notion. But Comaford says that when her clients see the astonishing results, they are more than willing to change the way they lead.

“When we’re able to break the mental patterns that hold us—and those around us—back, we can reach heights of performance we never thought possible,” she says. “And the best part is, it’s more rewarding for everyone. It can take work from being drudgery to being fun and exciting and meaningful.”

Three tips on repairing your relationship with management

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

CareerBuilderMost managers understand that the quality of their working relationships with employees can make or break on-the-job productivity, but just how pervasive are negative worker/boss pairings? And what are some warning signs that your manager may want you out?

A new CareerBuilder survey – conducted online by Harris Interactive from February 11 to March 6, 2013 among more than 2,000 U.S. employers – finds that 27 percent of bosses have a current direct report that they would like to see leave their company.

The results were nearly equal by gender, but varied significantly by age, with younger managers (ages 25-34) more likely to report having an employee they would like to leave than older managers (ages 55+) by a margin of eight percentage points—32 to 24 percent, respectively.

How do managers confront the disfavored employee?
“It’s important that managers be as direct as possible when dealing with employees that, for whatever reason, aren’t a good fit for their teams,” said Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources for CareerBuilder.

“Fortunately, a plurality of managers in our survey were open to confronting the situation through a formal discussion or warning; however, some will do nothing at all, or even resort to passive aggressive behaviors that can only prolong a negative working arrangement. It’s important that workers be aware of such warning signs, and if necessary, take steps to improve their situations.”

When dealing with an employee they would like to leave, 42 percent of managers are likely to issue a formal warning.

Other things managers say they are more likely to do that may serve as a red flag for workers include:

  • Point out shortcomings in employee’s performance more often: 27 percent
  • Reduce responsibilities: 21 percent
  • Hire someone else to eventually replace the employee: 12 percent
  • Move the employee to another work area: 8 percent
  • Keep employee out of the loop regarding new company developments: 8 percent
  • Communicate primarily via email instead of in person or over the phone: 7 percent
  • Don’t invite the employee to certain meetings or involve him/her in certain projects: 6 percent
  • Don’t invite the employee to social gatherings with co-workers: 3 percent Nearly a third (32 percent) of managers said they would do none of the above.

Manager-employee relationships can be fixed. In our experience over a lifetime, we’ve found that superior performance especially will put you in good lights with a manager, often regardless of any past problems. Managers often view such improvements as demonstrations of their own management skills.

Haefner offers the following tips for workers looking to repair relationships with management:

Recommit yourself to performance. Identify areas you can improve immediately and display your commitment to the company’s objectives. A majority (63) percent of managers say the best thing a worker can do after a falling out with the boss is to simply improve the quality of work. In most cases, the negative attitudes will be history.

Don’t hold a grudge or gossip. Fifty-nine percent of managers say one’s ability to “move forward and not hold a grudge” is important to repairing working relationships.

This is a two-way street, of course, but workers who are able to display professionalism in spite of personal differences will be in a better position to navigate office politics. Similarly, 38 percent of managers say simply not discussing the falling out with other colleagues is a smart way to repair a relationship.

Rewrite the terms. If you sense your manager is pushing you away, take preemptive action by presenting ideas that may improve the working relationship. Forty percent of managers cite this as a good way to move past the problem. Workers have the right to clear expectations of their roles and responsibilities. A conversation that redefines or clarifies those expectations is sometimes necessary.

Free video series offers helpful WordPress tutorials

Monday, March 11th, 2013
Susan Gilbert

Susan Gilbert.

As the web has evolved, WordPress has become a dominant platform for the building of websites and blogs.

According to online learning company,lynda.com, it is easy to use and includes many perks like making websites easy to find and allows for a large variety of templates to be used, many of which are free.

With recent changes and updates it’s good to know exactly how to successfully manage the publishing platform.

“Why do people choose WordPress themes for their websites?” Asks Sam Philips, SEO and business development manager at QArea, in a recent article inSocial Media Today. “Because they don’t have to spend lots of money to get one of them and WP themes can make any type of website look professional.”

Your website is home base

Susan Gilbert, marketing expert and author a SusanGilbert.com in Issaquah, Washington, believes that, “a website is an extremely important piece of online real estate.”

 

In fact, several recent marketing studies have shown that blogs, not social media, drive the most business for companies and brands.

Gilbert adds that having a fully developed blog or branded site will help a person or company get noticed both online and offline. “It’s what goes on business cards, gets linked in the social media profiles and, in general, is the hub of all the online activity,” Gilbert states. “It’s the home base.”

Her new videos will help anyone who is using WordPress, while Susan’s emphasis is on websites for authors and entrepreneurs. Her short video series provides step by step instructions that range from two to five minutes in length making the small tweaks available in WordPress easy to learn.

Get a security plugin

As longtime WordPress users here at the TechJournal, we strongly recommend installing a security plugin and firewall such as Wordfence (there are other, stronger security programs available too).

Cyber attacks are rampant and some bot networks scrape your content just to sell your competitors information about you. You may even want to block some countries unlikely to do business with you but very likely to add to the number of cyber attacks you have to fend off.

Nine cost-saving tips for startups

Friday, March 1st, 2013
Brett Reizen

Brett Reizen

By Allan Maurer

Brett Reizen launched his startup Entertainment Benefits Group (EBG) on September 12, 2001, a day after 9-11, so he learned the value of running a lean operation quickly in the economic turmoil that followed.

Today, EBG, which has 200 employees and 7,000 corporate clients, reaches 34 million people and is still growing. It provides travel and entertainment worldwide, reaching corporations and consumers through their corporate benefits program, TicketsAtWork.com, and several consumer sites: BestOfVegas.comBestOfOrlando.comBestOfNewYork.com.

Brett, 35, tells the TechJournal that he learned very quickly that he needed to stay on top of bills and the financial side of the business, but if he had one thing to do over, he would pay attention to that even earlier.

It’s challenging for a startup to hire professional help with accounting and financial planning, he notes, but says if you can’t do it yourself, you need to bring someone in from outside.

He also warns against buying an office condo or other unnecessary property. “Liquid cash is more important than anything,” he says. “Rent. It gives you a lot more flexibility if you grow more quickly than you expected to or if you have to downsize.”

He also says entrepreneurs need to “Stay focused. I still have a lot of ideas every day. Focus on areas you can expand with your resources and your business model. Don’t try to do everything at once.”

Here are his nine top cost-saving tips for startups:

1.     Have good personal credit – Get credit cards, pay them off in full and keep asking for a higher credit line. I did this for the first 24 months and also earned membership rewards points. I soon paid for all travel expenses with the credit card rewards points.


2.     Lower your living expenses – I was young and saved enough money to go about two years without making any money. I lived with my parents for six months to start the company and then had a roommate for three years. When working 12-15 hour days consistently with the ultimate goal of moving up, your confidence is high in knowing that with hard work, you will get there. Where you live and sleep doesn’t seem to matter much.

3.     Find a good landlord – For a new company this is always the challenging part. Try to find a landlord willing to be flexible and supportive. You shouldn’t get too much space, but the trick is always the length of the lease and what to do if you grow fast and need more space. Always be a close friend with your landlord.

4.     Rent and do not own. (unless you already do). Renting gives you more flexibility. Stay away from office condos.

5.     Spend more on the company and less on you. Remember that when spending more on the company means less money for you short-term, but the long-term and bigger picture will make it all the more worthwhile later.

6.     Review all bills. It can be surprising how many errors vendors make on all sorts of bills. Make sure you review your phone plans, electric, server expenses, photocopy details and almost every bill you get. The little numbers add up and a monthly reconciliation can save you thousands. We didn’t pay attention to this early on and when we woke up and started, we were pleasantly surprised.

7.     Don’t underestimate the importance of good bookkeeping. The only way you truly know your bottom line is quality reporting. It is mind boggling in how many entrepreneurs focus on the gross sales and neglect all expenses and proper accounting. I also learned the hard way and learned through mistakes early on. Make sure to not cut any corners, pay the extra money to hire a professional or a strong person to evaluate your accounting and reconcile your finances every month.

8.     Don’t by new equipment. No need to buy brand new furniture. Large companies move all of the time and in many cases they leave behind their furniture, often times great furniture, which looks brand new. Spending some extra time asking friends, family, associates and business colleagues can save you thousands, and in many cases if you find the right used furniture –it can look brand new. I never bought new furniture during the first 6 years we were in business.

9.     Start when you’re young. You are used to spending less and have not yet developed expensive tastes. You need a healthy balance of having enough experience or mentors in your life to help with answers that you think you should know but don’t, but age is an important factor in starting a business. It’s much easier before marriage and kids come into the picture because if things don’t work out, you don’t have the stress and responsibility that you will have when you’re 35-45.

Would Washington and Lincoln make it in today’s business world?

Monday, February 18th, 2013

Honest AbePresidents’ Day, which falls between the birthdays of two of our nation’s most revered leaders—George Washington and Abraham Lincoln—is coming up on Monday, February 18. And as every school-aged kid knows, both men are remembered for their honesty.

(Okay, “little George and the cherry tree” might be more legend than fact, but it doesindicate the extent to which our culture views truthfulness as a virtue.) To Joseph Callaway, the “lip service” we pay to honesty, even as we fudge the truth in our day-to-day lives, raises a question:Would Washington and Lincoln make it in today’s business world?

“I believe the answer is yes,” says Callaway, who, along with his wife, JoAnn, is the author of the new book Clients First: The Two Word Miracle (Wiley, October 2012, ISBN: 978-1-1184127-7-0, $21.95).

“If they showed up in 2013 and truly lived up to their reputations, they would find themselves in huge demand. People really, really crave honesty and transparency, and it’s mostly because they’re such rare qualities these days.”

Do a little soul-searching, suggests Callaway. You might be shocked at the number of white lies, exaggerations, misdirections, and lies of omission you’re guilty of. For example: I’m not going to meet my deadline so I’ll tell him I’m sick to buy myself a couple more days. Or, This is probably not the best vendor for this particular client, but since she (the vendor) sends us a lot of business, I’m going to recommend her anyway.

Even small dishonesties can hurt your business

The occasional lie of omission, or even commission, may not reflect any ill intent toward your clients. But in the long run, even small dishonesties will muddy your relationship and ultimately keep your business from being all it can be.

“We can usually rationalize our small or even large dishonesties,” says Callaway. “But when we examine them, we can see that our lies, little or big, are told to benefit ourselves—to make more money, to cover up mistakes, or to avoid an uncomfortable conversation.

“Making the decision to always put your clients first instead—which means telling them the truth and letting the chips fall—will transform your business,” he adds. “It may not happen overnight, but it will over time as you gain a reputation for transparency and trustworthiness.

And it will change your life. Just ask Abraham Lincoln, who ‘lost’ a lot of money during his lawyer career because he didn’t like to charge exorbitant amounts, and encouraged clients to settle out of court when it was in their best interests—even though he didn’t get paid!”

George WashingtonCallaway and his wife built their thriving business—Those Callaways—after a late-in-life entry into the world of real estate. Since then, they have lived through a bubble and survived a horrible economic downturn—and managed to prosper through both, while many of their fellow realtors never recovered.

Their magic bullet

They credit their “Clients First” philosophy as their magic bullet—and never, ever telling a lie is part of that.

Early on in their careers as realtors, the Callaways faced a not-uncommon dilemma: Their sellers, the Smiths, needed to sell their home soon so they could move. Their buyers, the Browns, had fallen in love with the Smiths’ house.

Perfect, right? Not really. It turned out the Browns’ offer was lower than what the Smiths were asking, but it still stretched their budget. Should the Callaways tell each family what they wanted to hear (and guarantee themselves a commission)…or should they do the right thing?

“JoAnn and I decided to tell each party the truth: This deal really wasn’t in either of their best interests, even though it was in ours,” he continues. “Like a fairy tale, we soon found the Smiths a buyer willing to pay their asking price, and we found the Browns a more affordable home they loved even more.

The way we did business was forever changed. Whatever happened, we knew we had to always put the client first—even though the truth sometimes hurts, and a fairy-tale ending isn’t always guaranteed.”

Whether in the days of Washington and Lincoln or right now, telling the truth is not rocket science. Honesty really is the best policy in business and in life. Callaway gives seven solid reasons why:

It’s why you exist. If you’re in business, you provide either a good or a service that’s aimed at making the consumer’s life easier, better, fuller, etc. In other words, your raison d’être comes down to helping other people. When you think about your job description in those terms, you’ll have to admit that while it may not always be comfortable, telling the truth is what’s in the client’s best interest.

“You can’t truly help someone if you aren’t being honest!” Callaway assures. “Sure, you can usually rationalize a blurred line or a white lie. But on whose behalf are you fudging the truth? Even if it’s for the client, broken rules and skipped steps—if and when they come to light—won’t be doing him any favors. And if you’re trying to skirt the truth to make your own life easier, beware: You’re on a very slippery slope.”

Joe Callaway

Client's First book

The authors wrote Clients First.

The truth will set you free. Remember when you were a kid and your mother told you that if you told her the truth about how the lamp really got broken, you’d feel better? She was right! Making a commitment to always tell the truth will take a weight off your shoulders that you might not have known was even there! Not only do lies have their own psychic weight, they complicate your life. Truth-telling simplifies it.

“JoAnn and I found that the positive effects of telling the Smiths and Browns the truth were almost immediate,” Callaway recalls. “The first thing we noticed was a new feeling of strength and courage. By no longer having to juggle the facts, we were relieved of so much strain! When you have only the truth, you wave goodbye to moral dilemmas and sleepless nights. You don’t have to worry about getting the story straight or remembering what you have and haven’t shared. You know you’re doing the right thing.”

Honesty is a catalyst for personal evolution. As you walk the path of putting your clients first, promises Callaway, you’ll evolve as a person, not just as a professional. That’s because being honest with your clients isn’t always easy. In fact, in some situations, it might be one of the most difficult things you’ve ever done. But just as sore muscles after weightlifting means that your body is getting healthier and stronger, feeling uncomfortable but telling the truth anyway means that your motivations and intentions are moving toward a higher plane.

“It’s hard to define what a ‘good’ person is, but rest assured that making honesty a constant part of your business will help you to move in that direction,” says Callaway. “JoAnn and I are not the same people we were 14 years ago. Our honesty now is definitely not what our honesty was then. Before, we weren’t always sure we could trust the truth, and we paid for that with fear and anxiety. Now, we enjoy a wonderful calm, as well as the trust and loyalty of clients we would have once worried about losing!”

Telling the truth is the best insurance. No matter what industry or field you’re in, things are occasionally going to go wrong. Despite your best efforts, clients will sometimes be disappointed and angry, and some will seek retribution. While you can’t prevent this eventuality, you can protect yourself by consistently being honest.

“Once I heard a fellow real estate agent say, ‘If you haven’t been sued, you aren’t doing enough business,’” shares Callaway. “I thought about that, and on the one hand was saddened by this person’s hardened attitude, and on the other hand, I was struck by the notion that litigation is a fact of life. It occurred to me that when you’re honest, your chances of being sued plummet. Even if things go wrong, your clients will know you have done your best and will be less likely to blame you for the failure.”

 

JoAnn-Callaway

JoAnn-Callaway

Honesty is a powerful magnet. When you cultivate a reputation for honesty, you’ll be surprised by how quickly and how far the word spreads. Clients want to work with businesses that won’t play them false, and when they believe they’ve found a good thing, they’ll tell others! And, of course, they themselves will stay loyal.

“Believe it or not, JoAnn and I have never asked for referrals,” says Callaway. “We simply put our clients first and watch as they become an army of recruiters.

“When you show yourself to be honest and trustworthy, the people with whom you do business will recommend you and advocate for you and want you to succeed. And when you take good care of those they send your way, they’ll be proud to do it again and again.”

“Sticking with the truth isn’t always easy—it’s something you have to dare to do,” concludes Callaway. “Why else do you think George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are revered for doing so?

“But remember, everything has an impact—and the price of not trusting the truth is always more expensive than the alternative.”

 

Four tips on how to avoid compliance penalties when paying contractors

Friday, February 1st, 2013

AAPA logoFor many businesses it is a necessity to hire contractors to ensure some jobs get done, but tracking payments to service providers properly can quickly turn into a tax compliance nightmare.

This can be of special interest to startups and entrepreneurs, who often keep their firms lean by using outside contractors for many business and technology functions.

The American Accounts Payable Association, the financial industry’s resource for AP education, training, and compliance, offers 1099-MISC preparation tips to ensure your tax reporting for 2012 is correct.

1. Form 1099-MISC required for noncorporate service providers.

If you paid any service provider (sole proprietors and partnerships) at least $600 for services during 2012, you must provide Form 1099-MISC to them no later than Jan. 31, 2013.  If the provider is a corporation you do not have to provide Form 1099-MISC.*

*You must provide Form 1099-MISC to attorneys or medical service providers who do business as corporations. To find out if a service provider is a corporation, have them complete IRS Form W-9, Request for Taxpayer Identification Number and Certification.

2. Be on time.  If you’re sending your Forms 1099-MISC to the IRS by mail, you must mail them no later than Feb. 28. If you’re sending an electronic file, you must file it by Apr. 1 with the IRS.

3. TIN truncation extended.  The IRS has issued regulations to extend and expand on the Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) truncation pilot program for 1099s. The regulations would create a truncated taxpayer identification number (TTIN) for use on electronic and paper payee statements.  Under the truncation procedure, the first five digits are replaced with either asterisks or Xs: ***-**-1234 or XXX-XX-1234.

4No 1099 needed for electronic payments.  If you paid for services with a credit card, debit card, gift card or another electronic payment medium (e.g., PayPal), you’re no longer required to send service providers a Form 1099-MISC. The bank or credit card company that made the actual payment will send the contractor Form 1099-K.

5. When in doubt, send a 1099.  If you are unsure whether a Form 1099-MISC is required, go-ahead and send one.  You set yourself up for penalties if you do not send all qualified service providers their Form 1099-MISC.

For additional tips, visit www.americanap.org.

 

Entrepreneurs: don’t grow yourself into trouble

Monday, January 28th, 2013

Author Ed HessWe hear a lot about job creation and how critical it is to our nation’s economic health and future. But who are America’s job creators? Are they the nation’s richest individuals? Are they big public companies? Hot start-ups?

The answer, says business growth expert Professor Ed Hess, is none of the above. He points to new research sponsored by the Small Business Administration—“Accelerating Job Creation in America: The Promise of High-Impact Companies” by Spencer L. Tracy, Jr.—showing that almost all net U.S. job creation in recent years came from existing private, high-growth companies.

“If we are really going to get serious about job creation, policymakers and communities should focus more on nurturing existing private, high-growth businesses,” says Hess, the author of Grow to Greatness: Smart Growth for Entrepreneurial Businesses (Stanford University Press, 2012, ISBN: 978-0-8047753-4-2, $29.95, www.EDHLTD.com).

Focus on an important issue: Growth

“That means doing what’s necessary to create a healthy small business environment, such as encouraging investment in private business through tax incentives, encouraging hiring inside the U.S., making credit readily available, and so forth,” he adds. “But it also means zeroing in on a very important issue that often gets overlooked: growth.”

To this end, Hess thinks, state governments, the Small Business Administration, chambers of commerce, economic development agencies, and entrepreneurship centers at colleges and universities should increase their focus on educating existing private business owners on how to manage both the risks and the challenges presented by growth.

Challenges facing the nation’s real job creators

Professor Hess led a study that looked at 54 high-growth private businesses in 23 different states, included both service and product businesses having an average age of 9.6 years and an average revenue of approximately $60 million with the range being $5 million to $350 million.

The key findings of that study led Hess to write two books: Growing an Entrepreneurial Business: Concepts & Cases, a case-textbook for colleges and universities, and the aforementioned Grow to Greatness. Both were peer-reviewed and published by Stanford University Press. The key concepts in those books are the subject matter of this free course.

So, what are the big challenges facing the nation’s real job creators? Take a look at a few facts Hess thinks every company should know about business growth:

Too often, businesses grow themselves into trouble. We know that many successful small businesses implode when they attempt to grow too much too quickly. Growth can outstrip people, processes, and controls.

“Cash flow management during growth periods is critical, because in many cases growth requires investments in people, technology, supplies, etc., ahead of the receipt of cash from customers,” says Hess.

“Entrepreneurs have to understand that they may not be able to afford all the available growth. Instead of following the ‘grow or die’ myth, a much better axiom to follow is ‘improve or die.’ As a business grows, in most cases entrepreneurs have to scale people, processes, and controls. That means not only more but better people, processes, and controls. A focus on improvement is critical because one must maintain high quality standards and financial controls in the haste of growth.”

Successful entrepreneurs know when to release the growth “gas pedal.” In his research, Hess found that every private business faces the same challenges as it attempts to grow. He found that successful entrepreneurs learned to pace their growth.

“They use what I call the ‘gas pedal’ approach to growth,” notes Hess.

“Letting up on the growth pedal to give their people, processes, and controls time to catch up. We also found that strategic focus was critical to safely growing. Focusing on doing one thing that lots of customers needed better than the competition equated to big opportunities.”

Growth means learning to effectively delegate. For a business to grow, the entrepreneur must grow also. When growth begins, entrepreneurs quickly find that they can do only so much and that they need help from others to properly serve customers. They must evolve from being a doer to a manager of employees and then eventually to a manager of managers (a leader).

“This may sound easy but it isn’t,” says Hess.

“Most entrepreneurs don’t like to give up control of any aspect of their business. Facing the fact that they can’t do it all on their own and that they must learn to rely on others to complete certain tasks (and not necessarily exactly how they themselves would do them) can be a very hard reality to swallow.”

Upgrading never ends. The people, processes, structure, and controls needed to manage a business with $1 million of revenue generally do not work for a business with $10 million of revenue. Entrepreneurs often learn the hard way that growth means continual change.

“As you grow, the solutions that worked at one level will most likely not work at the next,” says Hess.

“Inflection points for the companies I’ve studied occurred frequently when they expanded to 10, 25, 50, and 100 employees. When these changes take place, entrepreneurs often realize their hope of having a smooth-running machine is an elusive dream. Successful entrepreneurs and their employees are open to learning and adapting in an incremental, iterative, and experimental fashion.”

Growth creates business risks that must be managed. Growth stresses people, processes, quality controls, and financial controls. It can dilute a business’s culture and customer value proposition and put the business in a different competitive space. Understanding these risks is critical to managing the pace of growth and preventing growth from overwhelming the business.

“To get a better handle on growth risks, consider how your strategic space will change as you get bigger,” says Hess. “You will probably enter a new competitive space, facing bigger and better competitors than you previously faced. Those new competitors may be better capitalized than you and be able to engage in price competition, driving down your margins.

“The good news is that you can minimize this and other big risks by planning for growth, pacing growth, and prioritizing what controls and processes you need to put in place prior to taking on much growth,” he adds. “I call it ‘what can go wrong’ thinking, and entrepreneurs can’t indulge in too much of it.”

How to use Kindle to generate free business leads

Monday, January 21st, 2013

 

Kindle Fire

A Kindle Fire tablet computer

Imagine Amazon sending you business leads regularly and even paying you to do so. Why would they do it?

“Amazon is desperate for reading material and you can publish your content for free as Kindle books,” says V. Michael Santoro, a managing partner with John S. Rizzo of Globe On-Demand, an internet technology company. The two are also the co-authors of, “Niche Dominance: Creating Order out of your Digital Marketing Chaos,” (www.NicheDominance.com).

“The twist is to use them as a generation system for sales leads.”

The Audience is huge

The audience is huge – Kindle is no longer just for people who purchase Kindle tablets. Amazon has also written Kindle Reader applications for every major smartphone, tablet, and computer including the Android phone or tablet, iPad, iPhone, Mac, Windows 8 PC or tablet, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone 7, Santoro says.

“Most businesses hesitate to use Kindle to generate sales leads because they think they need to write an actual book,” says Rizzo, “But that’s not true. You can write and publish short reports — as long as the content is original, of high quality and does not violate its Terms of Service (TOS), Amazon will publish your material.”

The key is to include a compelling free offer with a strong call to action and a link to a lead capture page – the page on your website where people can sign up for more information, special offers, your newsletter, etc.

And Amazon will even help market your book – for free!

When a new Kindle book is approved and published, Amazon will:

 Feature it in their new releases section.

 Email their customer base announcing it to those who have previously purchased a Kindle book in that genre.

 Offer the Kindle KDP Select Program for ongoing free promotion.

 Allow customers to highlight, make notes, and share your book’s content via Twitter and other social networks.

“By enrolling in the free Kindle KDP Select Program, you give Amazon exclusivity on a renewable 90-day basis,” Santoro says. “This program allows their readers to borrow your book from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, and when they do, Amazon pays you a royalty, as well as for book sales. However, the real benefit is that Amazon provides five days per quarter to give your book away for free.”

Why give your Kindle book away for free?

“Because, as a lead generation system, you want as many individuals as possible to download your Kindle book and visit your lead capture page, Santoro explains. Additionally, Amazon views each book download as a vote and rewards your book with higher page ranking. The more downloads, the better the chance of an Amazon Page 1 placement.

To create your Kindle report:

Kindle white Use Amazon to determine what current Kindle books or paperbacks are published about your topic.

 Decide what information will be helpful to your potential customers. Make sure it is original and offers value. Avoid information that is easily found on the Internet.

 Create your report in Microsoft Word and include images if appropriate.

 Include your call to action – a message that prompts readers to visit your website — and link to your website’s lead capture page.

 Create a cover graphic.

Publishing on Kindle is fairly simple:

 Go to http://kdp.amazon.com and sign up for a free Kindle account.

 Watch the “How To” Kindle publishing video.

 Fill out the Amazon Author Page to track your statistics.

 Reference the book on your website and link to your Amazon book page.

 Announce it on your Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter accounts.

“The goal is not to sell books, but rather to generate leads from Amazon’s huge customer base,” Rizzo says. An additional benefit is that you will differentiate yourself from the competition by being a published author. If your content is excellent and helpful, you will also build trust which will help to increase sales from these new leads.

 

John S. Rizzo obtained his bachelor’s degree in business administration and spent three years as a consultant for Amazon’s publishing group. He has assisted several businesses with digital marketing strategy and has served in leadership positions for multiple initiatives for the Charleston, S.C., Chamber of Commerce.

V. Michael Santoro has more than 10 years in the digital marketing field. His prior experience includes international senior marketing positions in technology fields. He has a master’s degree and was an adjunct professor with the computer science department of Western Connecticut State University.

5 tips on making your message memorable

Monday, January 21st, 2013

By Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE

Patricia Fripp

Patricia Fripp at one of her speaking engagements.

Some presenters think that if they talk longer, they are giving more value or getting their point across more effectively, when in reality, audiences of any size, from 5 to 500, are eager for content presented as efficiently and memorably as possible.

One of my friends was a sales manager at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. He was a great salesperson one-on-one, but now he was facing a group of ten. “I’m very nervous,” he confessed. “How do I sell to so many people?” A professional association was debating whether to bring their convention to the city.

Below are the five tips I gave him to make his message memorable:

Build rapport.

His audience was convention committee. When building rapport with an audience, you need to emotionally and intellectually connect. Think of it this way: logic makes you think, emotion makes you act. You intellectually connect with your logical argument through specifics, statistics, charts and diagrams. You emotionally connect through eye contact, stories, content that creates a visual in the audience’s mind, and “you”-focused (rather than “I”-focused) language. This is incredibly important if you want to sell your ideas, a product or service.

Don’t be polite…get to the point.

“Let’s step backwards,” I said. “How long do you have for your presentation?”

“Seven minutes.”

I asked him how he would start if left to his own resources. The sales manager took a deep breath and began, “Well, ladies and gentlemen, I hope you’re enjoying our hospitality. I know…” and he was off on a stream of platitudes.

“You’re polite,” I told him when he finished, “and that’s not a bad habit, but you don’t have much time. They know who you are because you’ve been entertaining them. They know where you are. Make it about them.

I advised him to say, “Welcome and thank you for the opportunity to host you. In the next seven minutes, you are going to discover why the best decision you can make for your members and your association is to bring your convention to San Francisco and the Fairmont Hotel.”

Make your message sound valuable.

How valuable does your message sound? Just for fun, I had my friend choose either to rehearse his presentation and time it or transcribe it. He calculated the financial impact of his proposal, and the investment of his prospect, and divided by the length of his presentation. That gave him a dollar value for his words.

Then I asked, “What are you actually ‘selling’?”

“Well, it isn’t the Fairmont because if they come to San Francisco, they’ll definitely use our hotel. I guess I’m selling San Francisco because they are seriously considering San Diego.”

Then I asked him a question that rarely gets asked: “How much is it worth to the Fairmont Hotel if you get their business?”

“Half a million dollars,” he said.

“Mmm,” I said, grabbing my calculator. “Let’s see. Half a million dollars divided by seven minutes—that’s $1,041.66 a second, even when you pause.”

Remove fluff and filler.

Naturally you want to remove all the unnecessary fluff and filler. For example, avoid clichés like “each and every one of you in the room.” How often have you heard presenters say that? It’s adding nine unnecessary words! When you have made your message is clear and concise, divide the word count by the amount of time needed to deliver your presentation. Notice how much more valuable each word has become. Make every word count!

Watching the I-focused language, that is 7 ‘yous’ or ‘yours’ and 1 ‘Fairmont.’ He should continue with, “San Diego is a magnificent destination, and you should definitely go there in the future. However, this year you should come to San Francisco because…” and then list the specific reasons.

This is an emotional opening because it’s ‘you’ focused. And because my friend never disparages his competition, he’s acknowledging that San Diego is fabulous. He connected emotionally with his audience, and the logical specifics connect him to them intellectually.

It can be argued that those polite opening comments are necessary, because the audience is still settling down and not focused on you. This may be true, but don’t let it be an excuse. Go to the front of the room and wait until you have their attention, maintaining a strong, cheerful gaze and willing them to be silent. If needed, state the opening phrase of your comments and then pause until all eyes are focused on you, awaiting the rest of the sentence.

Logic sells, but close with emotion.

Continue a presentation with logical incentives, but end with emotion. Remember that last words linger, and your goal is to be memorable.

Finally, I told my sales manager friend, “Imagine years from now when your attendees are sitting around a convention lobby reminiscing about the best conventions they’ve ever attended, and they talk about their experiences in San Francisco at the Fairmont. And you’ll know you were part of that experience because you were on the planning committee.”

Persuasive presentations give you a competitive edge. You now have eight tips that add value to your words and make your message memorable. Use my friend’s model of how to emotionally connect in the beginning and end of a presentation and intellectually connect in between. Plus, you will be making your words sound more valuable.

About the Author

Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE, Keynote Speaker, Executive Speech Coach, and Sales Presentation Skills Expert, works with organizations and individuals who realize they gain a competitive edge through powerful, persuasive, presentation skills. She builds leaders, transforms sales teams, and delights audiences. Fripp is Past-President of the National Speakers Association. Contact her at http://www.Fripp.com,

Marketers should optimize their pages for Facebook’s Graph Search

Friday, January 18th, 2013

FacebookDigital marketing firm Punch Communications says brands should quickly become familiar with Facebook’s Graph Search feature and optimize their Pages, posts and websites in order to appear within results, therefore extending their reach.

The new feature is currently only available to US Facebook users. As it rolls out slowly to the rest of the world, Graph Search will allow further discovery of content shared publicly and by friends on Facebook, making it an ideal channel for brand Pages and posts to have visibility.

Furthermore, results can include websites that rank in Bing, as well as Bing ads, so businesses should also focus attention on correctly optimizing webpages and Bing PPC campaigns in order to develop a social search presence on Facebook.

Easier to search phrases

Graph Search will differ from a traditional web search platform as users can more easily search phrases that are linked to personal connections and queries; for example, “horror films recommended by my friends in New York”, “restaurants in Manchester” or “people who like Android smartphones”.

Graph Search is intended make searching Facebook content easier and provide users with results, which will be akin to recommendations.

These results are gathered from profile and brand Page information, likes and check-ins, with status updates and other activities to be incorporated in the future. However, the update presents a challenge for social media marketers as it appears Graph Search results are returned, at least in part, based on the number of interactions and fans the Page has.

This means brands must continue to create engaging content which encourages likes, shares and comments to maximise visibility in Facebook search.

Pete Goold, managing director at UK-based integrated social media, PR and SEO agency, Punch Communications, says: “As the new functionality is yet to roll out beyond US English users, it may seem difficult at the moment to pinpoint exactly how Graph Search will affect global marketing practices, but plenty is already apparent. There are a wide range of opportunities for brands to positively capitalize on Facebook search and now is the time to become familiar with what industry experts, especially those with access to the tool in the US, are reporting.

“It is clear marketers must immediately strategize and begin to adapt Page information and posts, as well as effectively integrate search engine optimization efforts, to make sure that they are visible in Facebook search results.”

Ten tips for better listening that leads to better business results

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

By Dave Mastovich

ListenIt seems like an organization exists for just about everything. My company belongs to the Society for Healthcare Strategy and the Mystery Shopping Providers Association. I’m part of the National Speakers Association. You can probably rattle off a few that are specific to your industry or area of expertise as well.

So I guess it makes sense there’s an International Listening Association. Their mission is to advance the practice, teaching and research of listening throughout the world.

I hear that.

But I just enjoy their statistics, gleaned from years of studying the good, the bad and the ugly of listening.

Here are a few nuggets:

  • 85% of what we know we have learned by listening.
  • 75% of the time we are distracted, preoccupied or forgetful.

  • We only recall about 50% of what was said immediately after we listen to someone talk.
  • In total, just 20% of what we hear will be remembered.
  • Less than 2% of us have had formal education about listening.
  • People listen through one of four primary styles: people, time, action or content oriented. Females are more likely to be people-oriented and males are more likely to be time or action oriented.

Say what? 

I’m thinking it means listening is vital to leading, managing, marketing and selling. Your personal productivity and your company’s success will be enhanced via better listening. With that in mind, here are…drum roll please…

10 Ways to Improve Your Listening

  1. Let the speaker finish their thoughts, don’t interrupt
  2. Keep an open mind, don’t judge
  3. Listen without planning what you are going to say next
  4. Give feedback
  5. Pay attention to the speakers posture and body
    language
  6. Stay focused
  7. Show respect
  8. Take notes
  9. Make eye contact to keep the speaker at ease
  10. Put as much effort into listening as the speaker puts into talking

Better listening leads to better results. And you don’t even need to join an organization to improve…

Just listen.

David MastovichDavid M. Mastovich, MBA is President of MASSolutions, an integrated marketing firm focused on improving the bottom line for clients through creative selling, messaging and PR solutions. He’s also author of “Get Where You Want To Go: How to Achieve Personal and Professional Growth Through Marketing, Selling and Story Telling.” For more information, go to www.massolutions.biz.

Editors note: You could learn a lot about how to provide a thought-leader message from the way Dave Mastovich writes and structures his business advice columns. Note the focus, the statistics that make it meaningful, and the quick, short tips.

Five ways to get stuck on your cutomers’ “Naughty” list

Friday, December 7th, 2012

Uplifting Service bookCustomers share at least one trait with Santa: they have their own naughty or nice lists.

Ron Kaufman, author of the New York Times bestseller Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers, Colleagues, and Everyone Else You Meet(Evolve Publishing, 2012, ISBN: 978-0-9847625-0-7, $24.95, www.UpliftingService.com), explained how to stay on their “Nice” list in a previous TechJournal post.

Here’s five things that will get you stuck on their “Naughty” list.

Specialize in the run-around. Doing business with a company should be a choice, not a chore. But unfortunately, many companies make receiving service very difficult for their customers.

“Companies on the naughty list aren’t streamlined,” notes Kaufman.

“Customers have to give the same information to one person after another as they’re passed from department to department seeking help. Departments are so siloed that customers can feel like they aren’t even talking to people who work at the same company.”

Treat customers like a number. Have you ever been to a business, office, or other facility where you had to literally take a number and wait for it to show up on the electronic sign before receiving service? It doesn’t feel so great, does it? That’s how customers feel when you don’t bother to get to know them as individuals.

“When you don’t personalize service by taking the time to learn your customers’ names or implementing systems that remember their needs, you make customers feel like they’re just one of many,” says Kaufman. “There’s no bond, nothing to make them feel any loyalty to you. Make one mistake and they will immediately go somewhere else.”

Exhibit a “the customer’s always wrong” mentality. If turning unhappy customers into loyal customers is what lands companies on the nice list, then the quickest way to land on the naughty list is to treat complaining customers like they’re ruining your day. This can mean anything from blame shifting to “punishing” an unhappy customer by making the interaction even less pleasant than it already is.

“Companies that don’t have a solid service recovery program react to complaining customers by seeking to avoid blame,” notes Kaufman. “Employees point the finger at their colleagues or back at the customers themselves and say, ‘It’s not my fault!’ They’re too focused on passing the buck to even take notice of the customers’ real needs. And to make it even worse, these companies tend to bog down customers even more by requiring a morass of receipts and time-consuming paperwork before they receive even a mediocre level of service.”

Put unhappy, clock-watching employees in front of customers. Naughty companies hire employees who are interested only in working for a wage, and it shows.

“For these companies, service with a smile is a pipe dream,” says Kaufman. “More like service with a grimace! You know you’re at a naughty company when a service representative won’t look you in the eye, has no energy to smile, and treats you like the service they provide is a chore. You might leave having received the product or service you need, but you won’t leave feeling uplifted or wanting to return.”

Put the bottom line on a pedestal. Some companies on the naughty list treat customers like a number; others treat customers like a dollar sign.

“Companies that put the bottom line on a pedestal above their customers can make customers feel like they’re being tricked or swindled,” notes Kaufman.

“They offer deals that aren’t backed by great service. Or run ads touting low-cost products that don’t offer real satisfaction. Customers end up feeling as mercenary as the companies they buy from. Both parties may have completed a deal, but neither was uplifted by any lasting value.”

Four tips for staying on your customers’ “nice” list by uplifting service

Friday, December 7th, 2012
Ron Kaufman

Author Ron Kaufman.

Generally, companies try to stay on their best behavior all year long. But during this holiday season—with decked halls, crowded malls, shrinking bank accounts, and frayed nerves—providing great service is even more critical than usual.

Much like Santa, customers have their own “naughty or nice list,” and Ron Kaufman says they won’t hesitate to give you the business equivalent of a stocking full of coal (i.e., taking their business somewhere else) if you make your way into the wrong column.

“There’s no better time of the year than the holiday season to uplift your customers with great service,” says Kaufman, author of the New York Times bestseller Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers, Colleagues, and Everyone Else You Meet(Evolve Publishing, 2012, ISBN: 978-0-9847625-0-7, $24.95, www.UpliftingService.com). “Unfortunately, there’s also no easier time of the year to do or say exactly the wrong thing.”

Often at the holidays companies find themselves overbooked and short staffed. Supplies of popular items run out of stock. Departments aren’t prepared for the increased volume of customer inquiries and complaints. Employees are too distracted by holiday events or travel plans or shopping lists to give customers their full attention.

“These practices are precisely what land companies on customers’ naughty lists,” says Kaufman. “But usually, these are not isolated incidents. Instead, they are evidence of a bigger problem in the organization’s overall service culture.”

Kaufman is at the head of a growing worldwide movement to uplift service in general—for customers and for colleagues. His new book takes readers on a journey into a world of uplifting service with dynamic case studies and perspective-changing insights. Readers learn how the world’s best-performing companies have changed the game in their industries through service and the action steps anyone can take to achieve an uplifting service transformation.

“Holiday happiness and great service needn’t be incompatible,” says Kaufman. “In fact, one of the true forces driving the holidays is our desire to take care of the people we love. And that’s what’s at the core of uplifting service—taking care of the needs and concerns of other people. When companies build a service culture that keeps this top of mind, they’ll find themselves on the nice list every time.”

How can you be sure to land on your customers’ nice lists? What behaviors will banish you to their naughty lists? Read on for a few tips from Kaufman:

To Stay on the Nice List:

Make it seamless. For many of your customers, the holiday season is the busiest time of the year. They will be shopping, ordering, and asking more questions than ever across every possible channel: in person, over the phone, at their computers, on their mobile devices, at work, in their cars, and from home.

“When you provide integrated, smooth service across channels, you’re making your customers’ lives a lot easier,” he says. “From web to email to ATM, to counter to SMS to phone calls, to social platforms and home deliveries, when all information about your customers accumulates and moves seamlessly, then your customers can get what they need from you quickly and get back to doing everything else in their lives.”

Customize for your customers. Sure, your customers know they aren’t your only customer, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to be treated that way. Personalized service makes people feel special.

“When you offer options, choices, range, and variety and create more value through customization and personalization, your customers will feel like they’re your favorite,” notes Kaufman.

“Implement processes that allow you to recall your customers’ questions, preferences, and choices in all future interactions. Then customize your offers and suggestions for their next visit or purchase. This increases your value each time a customer comes to you, and helps you become the vendor, store, or supplier they are glad to talk about and comfortable recommending to others.”

Say “Yes!” to service recovery. Companies on the nice list know that great service recovery turns “oops” into opportunities. Don’t treat customer complaints like they’re annoying or a waste of time, advises Kaufman.

Instead, be grateful when unhappy customers give you a chance to win back their business. Why? Because for every customer who does complain, there are several others who had the same problem, but didn’t give you a second chance.

“Companies that ‘get’ service recovery understand when a customer complains, he is really telling you what he values,” points out Kaufman. “If he says you weren’t fast enough, he values speed. If he says he’s tired of not being able to get anyone on the phone, he values human interaction.

‘Nice’ companies quickly seek to identify what complaining customers value. And then they make sure that employees are empowered to make amends and offer an appropriately generous and valuable new action.”

Remember that happy (engaged) employees = service with a smile. Especially during the holidays, it can feel like the businesses, stores, and restaurants we frequent have been invaded by employee drones. Many service providers seem exhausted, frazzled, and too overwhelmed to do anything more than provide the minimum service to keep customers moving along.

“Companies on the nice list know how important employees—both customer-facing and non-customer-facing—are to providing uplifting service,” says Kaufman.

“Your employees should be switched on and energized by their role at your company. When they’re clearly aligned, vigorously supported, and joyfully connected to the brand, to colleagues, and to customers, then job satisfaction fuels customer satisfaction in a virtuous cycle.”

Weave yourself into the fabric of the community

Uplifting service works because it makes everyone feel good, from employees to customers to other community members. When your company plays a socially responsible role in the community, then good feelings of service spread farther, and employees want to provide great service because it is so gratifying.

“When your company contributes and participates in the wider community, uplifting the commercial, civil, cultural, environmental, and economic eco-systems, people notice,” says Kaufman.

“They’ll want to give you business because they know you give right back to their community. Being your customer makes them feel like they’re contributing, too. Many companies do this with local sports team sponsorships, school internship opportunities, highway and park adoption schemes, and other neighborhood development programs.”

Also see: Five ways to get stuck on your customers’ “Naughty” list.

Companies shedding customers they could have kept, research says

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

AccentureAre you doing enough to hold onto your customers? Many companies are not and they’re shedding consumers they could have kept using social listening and by providing more responsive customer service, according to an Accenture survey.

One in five consumers switched companies they buy from, including wireless phone, internet service, and retailers, according research released by Accenture (NYSE: ACN).

This marks a five percent increase in switching over 2011 levels.  However, the eighth annual Accenture Global Consumer Survey also found that the majority (85 percent) of consumers say the companies could have done something differently to prevent them from switching.

The survey, which polled more than 12,000 consumers in 32 countries, found that among those consumers who would have stayed if their provider had acted differently, two-thirds (67 percent) pointed to having their customer service issue resolved during their first contact as a factor. More than half (54 percent) might have remained loyal if they had been rewarded for doing more business with their provider.

Wireless & Internet providers saw the most switches

The survey revealed that, of the ten industries covered, the largest rises in switching were among wireless phone providers (26 percent of consumers switched in 2012, up from 21 percent in 2011); internet service providers (23 percent switched, up from 19 percent in 2011) and retailers (22 percent switched, up from 16 percent in 2011).

Broken promises are a top area of frustration for consumers, according to the survey: nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of respondents indicate it’s extremely frustrating when a company delivers a different customer service experience from what it promised upfront.  Seventy eight percent of consumers say they are likely to switch providers when they encounter such broken promises.

Other frustrations that make consumers more likely to switch include:

  • Having to contact customer service multiple times for the same reason (selected by 65 percent of consumers)
  • Dealing with unfriendly customer service agents (65 percent)
  • Being on hold for a long time when contacting customer service (61 percent)
Personally, we’ve experienced every one of those problems and indeed, just this year switched home warranty providers and other services because of them. You have to wonder why some firms even bother with Facebook pages or Twitter accounts they don’t bother to monitor.

“The sobering reality is that ‘tried and true’ strategies for customer acquisition, loyalty and retention are struggling to keep pace with consumers who are perpetually in motion, more technologically savvy than ever, and increasingly unpredictable,” said Robert Wollan, global managing director—Accenture Sales & Customer Services.

“The news this year is that customers want to be loyal but customer service often fails to meet their expectations. In the digital marketplace, companies must improve social listening capabilities and apply predictive analytics designed to quickly identify and respond to potential customer issues before problems arise.”

Selling More With Tailored Experiences

The Accenture study found that a tailored experience is critical to a strong customer relationship.  Nearly half (48 percent) of respondents say that, compared to 12 months ago, they have higher expectations of getting specialized treatment for being a “good” customer.

A similar proportion (50 percent) say it is extremely important for customer service people to know their history so they don’t have to repeat themselves each time they call.

Nearly a third (31 percent) of respondents prefer companies that use information about them to make their experience more efficient from one step to the next.  However, only a quarter (24 percent) said their providers deliver tailored experiences.

Among the ten industries included in the survey, providers in the travel and tourism, retail banking and life insurance industries earn the highest marks for providing tailored experiences: 32 percent of respondents say travel and tourism providers offer tailored experiences, followed by 27 percent who say the same about retail banks and 25 percent about life insurance providers.

Companies need to use analytics

“To convince consumers to stay – and spend more—many companies will need to develop more tailored offers and interactions that connect with consumers’ specific needs,” said Michelangelo Barbera, managing director—Accenture Sales & Customer Services in Europe, Africa and Latin America.

“Taking such proactive steps to keep customers requires companies to use analytics to mine the vast stores of data they possess to gain greater insight into customers’ desires and intentions and behave in the ways that customers want them to. Failing to use that data equates to not listening and can result in customers searching for someone who will.”

Corporate Websites, Expert Review Sites Top Social Media Influence

As technology provides an ever-growing number of channels for consumers to interact with companies, the Accenture survey found that on average consumers use five to six channels to learn about and select providers, including:

  • Word of mouth, relied upon by 79 percent of consumers to get information about providers
  • Corporate websites, used by nearly three-quarters (71 percent) of consumers
  • Online sources such as expert review sites, news sites and product comparison sites, used by nearly two-thirds (63 percent)
  • Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, used by 47 percent of consumers.

Looking more closely at the influence of social media, the survey found that 31 percent of consumers say they trust comments posted by people they know, echoing the importance of word of mouth.  More than a quarter (28 percent) say positive comments in social media affect purchasing decisions and 28 percent say negative comments do so.

“Consumers, particularly in North America, appear to be migrating to increasingly polarized camps: one group that prefers traditional interactions, such as telephone, and one tech-savvy group that demands seamless interactions across all digital platforms,” said Kevin Quiring, managing director—Accenture Sales & Customer Services in North America.

“Many companies, however, approach their customers with a decades-old, ‘one size fits all’ sales and service model that they must evolve to satisfy the different ways consumers want to interact with the companies they buy from.”

For more information:

 

BMO Harris Bank offers four tips to “Boomerpreneurs”

Monday, October 29th, 2012

Boomers may be hitting retirement age or find it tough to land a job in this economy, but many of them aren’t quite ready to quit. Instead, they’re starting businesses as “boomerpreneurs.”

Some just find retirement boring, others are pursuing a passion or a lifelong dream to work for themselves. Still others just want to keep following the American dream of someday striking it rich. But regardless of motivation, they face the same tough road as all entrepreneurs.

There is even a website dedicated to them: Boomerpreneur.

While there are many benefits to opening a small business in retirement, ‘Boomerpreneurs’ should understand that entrepreneurship involves an enormous financial commitment that is best managed with the assistance of a financial professional. Lack of sufficient preparation could have a negative effect on the business owner.

BMO offers the following tips to Boomerpreneurs-to-be:

Do your research: Take advantage of the resources and network you have built over the years and learn all you need to know to set up your company.  This includes gaining industry insight, arranging a new phone number, deciding whether or not to incorporate the business and looking into the potential tax implications.

Consider the pros and cons: Think carefully about why you want to start your own business. Being your own boss can offer some flexibility.  However, other sacrifices, such as longer hours and a possible decrease in cash flow – starting up, and potentially over the life of your retirement — may be necessary to ensure your success.

Develop a plan: Stress-test your idea and research your marketplace, including what products and services you will be offering, their appropriate price point(s), who your potential customers will be and what your sales targets will need to be to cover your costs. Keep your end goal in mind as you build your company and maintain a positive, yet realistic, outlook as you progress.

Seek outside advice: Speak to an accountant and a small business banker. Financial specialists that can provide insight into setting up your company, market competition, personal and business capital and how it may change over time.

Learn all the facts before starting your own business.

Fasten your seatbelt: Three tips on riding the startup roller coaster

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

By Allan Maurer

roller coasterIt’s much easier to launch a startup company these days, but not nearly so easy to get venture or angel financing, says Joe Procopio.

New technologies such as cloud computing infrastructure, fairly easy to use website development and content management systems, and other advances make it a much simpler matter to get a company launched with very little capital.

But getting seed or venture funding these days is a different matter.

“It started with the Facebook hangover,” says Procopio. The number of financing deals and the dollars invested are down compared to last year. I think we’ll be seeing smaller deals with less game-changing technology behind them and a greater emphasis on revenues.”

In fact, he adds, “It’s not just about the idea any more. Financials are king. You really have to have customers and show good financials — or have a very clear path to them – to get funded these days.”

Get into the startup ecosystem

On the other hand, he says, “Often, getting funding is not the way to go.” Instead, he says, entrepreneurs should take advantage of the startup ecosystems popping up in many cities and regions.

Those include accelerators, incubators, competitions, universities, and crowd-sourced funding (such as Kickstarter).

Carolina ChallengeFor instance, he notes, via the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Carolina Challenge, “Students are getting into entrepreneurship while completing a bachelor’s degree. They’re coming out of school starting their own companies and get cashflow positive very quickly. It’s a trend that will continue.”

While there will still be some “home-run hitters” among startups and some great ideas that get tons of funding, most startups are probably better off “Letting customers fund them,” he says.

Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

Procopio, a serial entrepreneur familiar to TechJournal readers for his columns about the startup scene in the Research Triangle in NC, where he is a familiar face at conferences and networking events for entrepreneurs, will participate in the upcoming Startup Summit in Raleigh, NC, Nov. 6-7.

Speakers from top brands

The Startup Summit is a new addition to the 2012 Internet Summit, which brings 120 thought-leaders to the Raleigh, NC, Convention Center Nov. 6-8, featuring speakers from AOL, Bing, Google, Klout, Mashable, comScore and many other top digital brands.

He’ll join speakers such as Angus Davis, founder and CEO at Swipely, Paul Singh, partner and “Master of the Hustle,” at 500 Startups, Sarah Lacy, founder and editor of Pando Daily, and venture capitalists from NextView Ventures, ABS Capital, True Ventures, Baltimore Angles and Nucleus Venture, Southern Capitol Ventures, Contender Capital,  and North Bridge Venture Partners.

Among the other startup CEOs on the agenda is Procopio’s boss at Automated Insights, Robbie Allen, a former distinguished engineer at Cisco and author of ten books on a variety of technical topics.

Automated InsightsAllen founded Automated Insights, which began by developing automated sports reporting, an idea that got a lot of press for its robot journalism angle. The firm landed a NC IDEA grant and raised a $4.3 million round of funding in October last year.

Automate everything

Procopio, who has been with the firm since 2010, says, “Our slogan is automate everything. “We joke that we want to automate our ping pong games,” he quips. Automated Insights has moved on from automated sports reporting – for which there is a limited market – to such things as recapping Fantasy Football games in a deal with Yahoo. Personally, here at the TechJournal, we think that is one clever idea.

Procopio, who also started and runs the ExitEvent startup network, has this advice for entrepreneurs:

First, “Chase sales and think customers first. Prove your idea before you seek money and consider whether you really need outside capital.”

Second, “Reach out to the startup ecosystem and get involved early. You’ll get so much return on very little investment connecting at educational events or just going out with other entrepreneurs for a beer. Later stage guys are open, helpful and willing to make connections for you.”

Ride the roller coaster

Finally: “Ride the roller coaster. If you’re having days with awesome highs followed by terrible lows, you’re doing it right.”

He sees a lot of entrepreneurs who go a month or two without gaining traction and get the 20th no, then quit.

But, he says, “That’s one of the best and worst things about being a startup. You’ll have days that are phenomenal and the next be crashing down and fighting fires. Doing that, you’re in the right place.”

On the other hand, he says, if you’re not having those highs and lows on the roller coaster, you may be growing complacent and “need to pivot.”

The easiest way to lose, he says, “Take your eye off the ball and get complacent.”

 

 

Spend your time on what matters most: Part two: content optimization

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

By Ryan Kettler, Boostsuite

scrabble tilesLast week we revealed that the first step to getting more results from your website is to start creating new content. Today, we will talk about how you can optimize your new content for maximum results.

Before, during, and after you create your new pages of content you need to make sure to focus on optimization. What does that mean? It means you need to select the proper keywords and use them in the right places on your new pages. Keywords are the basis of ALL search engine rankings. Searchers enter keywords and short key phrases in search engines to find information they need.

The best keywords have some level of search volume for them, yet aren’t too broad or unknown. For instance, your business name and brand names are not usually good keywords because most of your new customers don’t already know about your business yet.

The best way to find the right new keywords for your business is to use a resource like the Google Keyword Tool.

After you choose one or two keywords to optimize a new article with, you have to actually integrate those keywords within your content in five key areas.

1 – Page Title

This is the text used in the link that visitors click on in the search engine results page to come to your site. You need to make sure each one of your page titles reflects the content of its page and that the keywords you have chosen for that page appear near the beginning of the title. This is because longer titles are truncated after 70 characters. You need to find a fine balance between short length and making sure that your title explains what your page is about.

2 – URLs

Your page URL often already includes your Page Title because most modern content management systems place the page title within the page URL automatically. If yours doesn’t, ask your webmaster how you can change your website to automatically include your page titles in your page URLs.

3 – Meta Description

Although meta descriptions are no longer important to search engine rankings, they remain highly important for improving click-through rates from the search engine results pages (SERPs).

Meta descriptions are your opportunity to advertise your website to searchers and let them know exactly how pertinent a given page’s content is to the subject they’re searching for. A good meta description includes keywords associated with a page’s content, but should also create a compelling description a searcher will want to click on.

Using calls-to-action in your meta description such as “learn more”, “download now”, and “find out how” is a great idea because they’re incentives that tell your potential visitors exactly what they’ll get by clicking your link. The meta description should optimally be around 150 characters and should be written in sentence format.

4 – Headings

Headings are lines of text on a webpage wrapped by special HTML tags that cause them to be displayed as large text on a web page. These tags range numerically from H1 to H6 where H1 is the largest. Before the Internet, text headings were used by newspaper editors to catch readers’ attention at a newsstand and entice them to buy the paper.

Nowadays, since most web content is free, the heading tags serve as a way to get the search-engines’ attention so they can provide their searchers with the most relevant results. You should always start an article with a keyword-rich large (H1) heading and work your way down the page using smaller headings in order as your content progresses.

Body Content

You may have heard the expression “content is king” and the reason why is because the meat and potatoes of search engine optimization is making sure the body content of a web page contains your keywords. In a 500 word article you should mention all of your article keywords about five times.

Implement a regular content creation and optimization process for your business and you’ll get a leg up on your competitors. Stay tuned for the next article in this series. We’re going to share some easy tips for how to promote your new content to gain maximum exposure.

Boostsuite’s founder and CEO, Aaron Houghton is among the entrepreneurial thought-leaders participating in the two-day Startup Summit in Raleigh, Nov. 6-8, where he’ll discuss how to drastically lower the risk you take when you launch your new startup.

The Startup Summit is sponsored by TechMedia’s Southeast Venture Conference at the upcoming Internet Summit in Raleigh, NC, Nov. 6-8.

Ryan Kettler is Director of Communications for BoostSuite. Ryan is a sports fanatic, beer connoisseur, Internet marketing zealot and live music enthusiast. When he’s not helping BoostSuite customers he can be found sampling the latest IPAs and cheering on his North Carolina State Wolfpack.

BoostSuite is a web marketing optimization product for small business owners. Unlike current products that bewilder and discourage small business owners, BoostSuite allows novice web marketers to build more website traffic and convert more online visitors into customers and leads for their businesses. BoostSuite is free and takes only one minute to set up, is easy to learn, and can be used by anyone.